Are Sony’s Exclusives As Important As They Once Were?


Maybe it was to be expected (I didn’t read all of Sony’s PR material beforehand), but Sony’s Paris press conference this week was almost entirely focused on its first party offerings. It was basically another attempt to keep defining “PlayStation” as a unique identity. That is, to define “PlayStation” as a unique set of games.

This makes sense traditionally, what with the all-important rule that “software sells hardware.” But this is an era where exclusives are fading, and I’m not sure how far this strategy can go.

That rule made sense back when consoles were more exotic and had software libraries more unique from one another. Today hardly anything is exclusive. This started to happen during the last console generation but Microsoft still “beat” Sony in North America and the UK. That didn’t happen because of a necessarily better lineup of games (some might argue the PS3 had more significant exclusives), but because people perceived the platform and service itself as better.

Games had fewer problems on 360 than PS3 early on, and more importantly people preferred Xbox Live to PlayStation Network. The content delivery system was quicker, and Microsoft had a lot of popular features long before Sony did like party chat or the ability to control the console menu while running a game. I think attracting more people to PlayStation shouldn’t just be about games, but also making the system and service better than the competition. I’m not saying Sony should have packed all that into this Paris conference. Maybe it’s just choosing to make platform-oriented announcements in other ways and places. These days most people are going to be playing games that are also available on Xbox and PC. Give them a reason to play those games on PlayStation.

I don’t have go over how desperate Sony and Microsoft have been at press conferences for the last few years to tag games as “exclusives” in various interpretations of the word. from early DLC to timed exclusives to “console exclusives” that are also on PC. They’re bumping up against an realization that software should be available on as many pieces of hardware as makes sense and are resorting to the last thing they can for exclusivity — first party development and publishing.

The interesting thing about Sony’s big push for exclusives through first party and publishing partnerships is the fact that it’s pretty much already in first place this console generation due to other factors. For its first two years on the market the PS4 didn’t really get any exclusive “killer apps” but people still bought them faster than Sony had anticipated. It’s throwing out everything it can from David Cage’s new game to some “console exclusives” to out-there projects like Dreams. The Sony at these press conferences looks like a Sony trying to fight to bring consumers in with exclusives when it’s largely already winning those consumers. Multiplatform games are already selling more on PS4 than Xbox One.

Contrast this with Microsoft’s situation last generation. Games sold more on Xbox 360 than on PS3, and Microsoft kind of just sat on its laurels and let that inertia carry the 360 while maintaining a better underlying platform and service. It allowed first party development to slow down at times to almost just HaloGears of War, and Forza.

Everybody is going to like different games of course, but when I think about the exclusives that make me interested in a PS4, most of them weren’t even at the Paris conference. The only major Sony first party game I’m down for right now is probably Uncharted 4. Outside of that are just third party games I can’t get on PC like the Odin Sphere remaster, Persona 5, and Grand Kingdom. Those last three are just because their developers are among the last small Japanese developers who haven’t gotten around to releasing games on PC. Atlus and Vanillaware are even thinking about it as of now. There might be a few other smaller games I forgot to mention or might be slightly interested in. The point is, this is still a far cry from 2001 when Sony had an absolute whirlwind of first party and third party mega franchises coming only to its platform. What we’re seeing now are fumes trying to relive that glory.

We are past the era where people bought PlayStation because it was where they could play Tekken or Final Fantasy. Today people buy PlayStation mostly because they don’t want to spend $800+ on a PC or worry about driver updates.


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